Rachel's Democracy & Health News  [Printer-friendly version]
May 25, 2006


[Rachel's introduction: The "powers that be" have begun a new
campaign to convince you that we must build hundreds of new nuclear
power plants to avert global warming. Campaign partners include the
Cheney/Bush administration, the nuclear power corporations, and the
New York Times.]

By Peter Montague

It's time to dust off your "No Nukes!" button -- or grab that old one
out of your Mom's top bureau drawer. You may need it soon.

The "powers that be" have begun a new campaign to convince us that we
must have dozens or hundreds -- worldwide, thousands -- of new nuclear
power plants to avert the threat of global warming.

Three groups have teamed up for the campaign: the Cheney-Bush
administration, the nuclear power corporations, and most recently the
New York Times. The campaign has two official mascots -- Christine
Todd Whitman, the failed former head of U.S. Environmental Protection
Agency (EPA), and Patrick Moore, the widely-mistrusted former head
of Greenpeace International.

Each of the three campaign partners has a different agenda, but they
all want you to believe that building hundreds or thousands of new
nuclear power plants is the best way to meet the world's need for
electricity -- that nuclear power is safer, cleaner and cheaper than
all the many alternatives.

Electricity can be generated by many kinds of machines. Commercial-
scale electric plants exist now based on wind turbines, photovoltaic
panels that turn sunlight directly into electricity, geothermal plants
that draw their heat from the deep earth (one to two miles below
ground), turbines powered by natural gas, coal-fired dinosaurs, and
nuclear power plants. There are other ways to make electricity but
these are the main ones in commercial use today.

Nuclear power plants are by far the most complicated way to make
electricity. Nuclear power starts by mining radioactive uranium out of
the ground, then "enriching" it in a centrifuge that can make nuclear
fuel but can also make fuel for an A-bomb. (Iran's current plan to
operate its own centrifuges is what all the wrangling is about with
Tehran.) The enriched uranium is then stuffed into a nuclear power
plant where it undergoes a controlled fission reaction, splitting
atoms to release tremendous quantities of heat, which is used to boil
water to turn a turbine to make electricity.

In contrast, a wind turbine uses the wind to turn a turbine to make

But of course the electricity from a wind turbine must be stored in
some form to provide power when the wind is not blowing. Nuclear
plants produce electricity more-or-less steadily unless there is
mishap such as a leak or spill or other glitch. Hydrogen is the
leading candidate for energy storage.

So now let's listen to the New York Times editorial staff as it tries
to convince us (May 13, 2006) that nuclear power is the best way for
the nation and the world to meet its electricity needs:

New York Times: "Not so many years ago, nuclear energy was a hobgoblin
to environmentalists, who feared the potential for catastrophic
accidents and long-term radiation contamination. But this is a new
era, dominated by fears of tight energy supplies and global warming.
Suddenly nuclear power is looking better."

Rachel's: Yes, big accidents and routine radioactive releases are two
valid concerns about nuclear power, but the biggest concern by far has
always been the unbreakable link between nuclear power plants and A-
bombs. Israel, India, Pakistan, and North Korea all built A-bomb
arsenals by first building nuclear power plants, so this is not merely
a theoretical concern. As we speak, Iran is shuffling down this well-
trodden path.

New York Times: "More important, nuclear energy can replace fossil-
fuel power plants for generating electricity, reducing the carbon
dioxide emissions that contribute heavily to global warming. That
could be important in large developing economies like China's and
India's, which would otherwise rely heavily on burning large
quantities of dirty coal and oil."

Rachel's: Yes -- even after taking into consideration the large
quantities of fossil fuels required for mining, processing, and
enriching fuel, and in plant construction, operation, waste disposal
and plant decommissioning, nuclear power could reduce carbon dioxide
emissions by some amount while generating electricity. The question
is, are there better ways to achieve the same result? But the Times
fails to address this question.

New York Times: "As nuclear expertise and technologies spread around
the world, so does the risk that they might be used to make bombs.
Unfortunately, the Bush administration erred badly when it signed a
nuclear pact with India that would undercut the Nuclear
Nonproliferation Treaty, the cornerstone of international efforts to
prevent the spread of nuclear weapons. That misguided deal needs to be
repudiated by the Senate. We can only hope that it does not undercut a
more promising administration plan to keep the most dangerous fuel-
making technologies out of circulation by supplying developing nations
with uranium and taking the spent fuel rods back."

Rachel's: In that paragraph, the Times' first sentence should be
rewritten as follows: "As nuclear expertise and technologies spread
around the world, so does the near-certainty that they will be used to
make bombs." Since this has already happened several times, we know it
can (will) happen again. The connection between nuclear power and
nuclear bombs simply cannot be broken.

The rest of the Time's paragraph makes it seem as though President
Bush is to blame for this problem, and that if he would just uphold
the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, no one would be able to make
bombs from the ingredients in a nuclear power plant. Tell it to India.
Tell it to Pakistan. Tell it to Israel. The Nuclear Nonproliferation
Treaty was in full force when these nations joined the "nuclear club"
of A-bomb-wielding nations. Nuclear power is simply an unmanageable
technology. If you have a nuclear power plant and you are committed to
making an A-bomb, you can almost certainly do it, sooner or later.

New York Times: "There remains the unsolved problem of what to do with
the radioactive waste generated by nuclear plants. Many people are
unwilling to see a resurgence in nuclear power without some assurance
that the spent fuel can be handled safely. The Energy Department's
repeated setbacks in efforts to open an underground waste repository
at Yucca Mountain in Nevada do not inspire confidence, but there is no
reason why the spent fuel rods can't be stored safely at surface sites
for the next 50 to 100 years."

Rachel's: Perhaps the radioactive waste problem can be resolved in 50
to 100 years. But what if it cannot? Some of the smartest scientists
in the world, with essentially unlimited budgets, have been working on
this problem for more than 50 years. They have devised the highest of
high-tech solutions, all of which have turned out to be dead ends.
Fifty years of study and experiment have yielded no useful
solutions. Meanwhile, we keep making this stuff with a hazardous
lifetime that far exceeds the time that humans have walked the earth.
Perhaps it would be prudent to assume that this problem cannot be
solved, and that further deployment of nuclear power should be delayed
until solutions have been demonstrated.

New York Times: "More problematic is the administration's long-term
solution for waste disposal. It wants to recycle the spent fuel in a
new generation of advanced reactors that would use technologies that
don't yet exist, following a timetable that many experts think
unrealistic. Its current approach is apt to be costly and would leave
dangerous plutonium more accessible to terrorists."

Rachel's: Our point exactly. The nation's best scientists have failed,
and now political appointees in the Cheney/Bush administration have
elbowed the scientists aside and decided to impose their own
"solution." These are the same people who have demonstrated failure in
essentially every major decision during the past six years. Now they
want to "recycle" nuclear waste into new, untried, and clearly risk-
prone and terrorist-prone "solutions" that this nation considered and
rejected for compelling reasons 25 years ago.

New York Times: "Nuclear power has a good safety record in this
country, and its costs, despite the high initial expense of building
the plants, are looking more reasonable now that fossil fuel prices
are soaring. How much impact it could really have in slowing carbon
emissions has yet to be spelled out, but there is no doubt that
nuclear power could serve as a useful bridge to even greener sources
of energy."

Rachel's: Huh? We're not sure how much nukes can reduce global
warming, but we should spend billions more taxpayer dollars to
subsidize nukes? This is no basis for national policy. Between 1948
and 1998, civilian nuclear power received at least $77 billion dollars
of federal subsidies (in constant 2005 dollars).[NRDC, pg. 5] The
insurance industry still won't touch nuclear power with a ten-foot
pole so Congress has to limit the industry's liability by law -- a
huge subsidy to the nuclear power corporations. Wall Street won't
touch it either without huge additional federal guarantees and
subsidies. This is a technology that falls on its face unless Uncle
Sam provides a permanent crutch.

We should ask ourselves, Why aren't we willing to spend $77 billion to
subsidize energy-saving measures, and the development of existing
minimally-polluting technologies like wind turbines with hydrogen
storage, and hydrogen fuel cells to make electricity and power
vehicles? Even Ford and General Motors -- not the brightest bulbs
on the corporate landscape -- say they will offer us hydrogen fuel-
cell vehicles in the next few years. These technologies exist now.

Solar technologies such as wind power have an even better safety
record than nuclear and they too are looking more affordable as the
cost of oil rises.

The time is now for all of us to get behind wind and solar power as
solutions to our energy challenges. Together they constitute a highly-
desirable and entirely-achievable precautionary energy program. Today
the environmental-health-and-justice movement is bogged down bickering
over individual projects like Cape Wind on Nantucket Sound. Every
day we wait to align solidly behind wind and solar improves the odds
that the nuclear cowboys will have their way with us,

A study published in Science magazine (June 24, 2005) concluded that
hydrogen-fuel-cell-automobiles would be cheaper to run than today's
gasoline-powered vehicles. Conservation is the cheapest and least
polluting option of all, and it is available in abundance right now.
Conservation, wind, photovoltaics, hydrogen storage (and hydrogen
fuel-cell vehicles), plus a modicum of ethanol and methanol can
provide a far safer and cleaner bridge to even greener sources of
energy. It's time to take a principled stand for conservation, wind
and other solar options. They are good for the planet, good for
people, and good for local control, good for "local living
economies," and good for self-determination.

These alternative sources of energy don't fit the divergent agendas of
any of the three pro-nuke campaigners. Of all these alternative energy
options, only nuclear power offers to create an endless series of
international crises (think Iran, think North Korea) requiring macho
threats of military showdown at the OK corral. Only nuclear power
requires multi-billion-dollar centralized machines that can be
controlled by a tiny handful of investors -- thus empowering Wall
Street elites instead of empowering farmers who would be only too
happy to put wind turbines in their corn fields. (A farmer in Colorado
is likely to receive $3000 to $5000 per year for hosting a single wind
turbine on a quarter-acre of land, instead of producing 40 bushels of
corn worth $120 or beef worth perhaps $15 on that same land. Lester
Brown, pg. 191.)

Of all the available alternatives, only nuclear power relies on
machines that require armed guards, anti-terrorist exercises and
simulations, evacuation drills and other paramilitary apparatus. Only
nukes with their threat of rogue weapons can provide endless excuses
to spy on other nations and search through the phone records from
every citizen. Only nuclear power with its unbreakable link to A-
bombs "requires" the President to declare habeas corpus null and
void, and to declare that he and Mr. Rumsfeld will torture anyone
they choose to torture any time it suits them, thus commencing the
Great Unraveling of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which
was imposed upon Real Americans by that class traitor Franklin Delano
Roosevelt and his commie-loving wife back in 1948.

In sum, none of the available alternative energy sources can match
nuclear power's ability to thwart the nation's inherent democratic
tendencies and stop the nation's slide toward local control, small-
scale enterprise, self-reliance, and a populist political reawakening.
Without nuclear power and petroleum to anchor their centralized
authority and provide excuses for their military adventures, the
"powers that be" will soon seem very much like the little man behind
the curtain in the Wizard of Oz. And that would never do. It simply
would never do.

And so I say to you, dust off your protest banners and buttons. That
time may be coming around again when we must hit the streets. No blood
for oil! Climate justice! No nukes!